How IoT is transforming the healthcare industry

Date: August 2, 2018

IHS Markit predicted that by the end of 2030, approximately 125 billion devices would be IoT enabled. And according to BI intelligence predictions, next 5 years would witness a spending of $6 trillion on IoT, out of which a maximum of $2.5 trillion is expected to be the healthcare spending. Several other expert reports too suggests similar claims of huge growth in IoT and analytics sector.

Going by the current trend, these reports can be nothing less than believable. Iot has already made its way to our homes in the form of Alexa, Google Home, Amazon Echo etc., making us equally excited and satisfied. IoT’s experimentation in consumer electronics is on the rise, mostly attributed to its being a little less critical domain. Even financial sector is no longer behind with the revolutionary Blockchain Technology etc.

“Expert predicts that by 2020, 87% of the healthcare industry will adopt IoT.”

Healthcare, on the other hand, is moving relatively slow when it comes to incorporation of intelligent devices. Even then, as per the report from 2017 Thales Data Threat, 30% of the healthcare organizations is already using IoT. When we come to analyse the reasons behind this slower progress in healthcare, the points seem quite sensible -

  • Security is still a major concern for IoT enabled devices. And for healthcare devices, that undoubtedly is an uncompromisable front.
  • The rise and fall of Theranos has taught us to be skeptical about things which sounds too good to be true.
  • Healthcare devices go through rigorous testing.

So, even though hurdle remains, speed and ‘connected healthcare’ is progressing everyday. Before delving deeper into what is commonly known as the Internet of Medical Things or IoMT, let’s first try to understand the the scope of IoT in healthcare.

A brief overview of IoT

“In the year 2008, the number of ‘things’ connected by internet had already exceeded our population!”

Almost every IoT enabled device has the following components -

  • A sensor or a device
  • Connecting unit
  • Data Processing unit
  • User Interface

The sensor is used to extract data or the required information from the environment. This data can be either the temperature in the vicinity, distance, time etc.

This data/information is then sent to cloud through some form of connection. The connection can be either wired or wireless. Wireless connections includes BlueTooth, Wi-fi, Satellite Communication etc. Wired communication can be through Ethernet cables.

Then comes the actual use of Machine Learning or decision making algorithms which work on the fetched data and does some processing on it in order to generate the required output.

Then comes the user interface, through which the output is made available to the end user. The interface is usually in the form of an app on the mobile/ tablet/PC. Now, as we know what IoT is, let’s talk about one of the major challenge in healthcare industry.

Healthcare challenges

Healthcare industry faces perpetual challenges. When it comes to health, no compromise is entertained. Even with years of researches, certain challenges are tough to deal with. Some of such challenges are -

  • Timely detection of health problems and prevention of death due to delay in treatment.
  • Health monitoring and caring.
  • Inconvenient diagnostic techniques.
  • Creating the right ambience for the patient.
  • Medical Imaging. Finding the line between data loss and optimization.
  • Accuracy in measurements and medical diagnostics.

Before we get into the discussion of how IoT is/can help in curbing all the above challenges, let us give you a brief idea of what IoT is.

How IoT comes into the picture

“As of 2015, the largest contributor to the global smart healthcare market is North America, with a value of 2015”

Deaths due ambulance delay are not very infrequent. Especially at busy hours, in the prevalence of road congestions. To add to the number of deaths due to delay in treatment, a number of times ‘it becomes too late for treatment’, when a disease is not detected on time.

Deaths due to ambulance delay can be prevented if IoT enabled inhouse treatment can be provided. Wearable devices capable of monitoring heart rate, energy expenditure, sleep cycle, steps taken are no longer uncommon. These devices can be a huge aid in timely detection of health problems.

“A good example of such resolution is Google’s DeepMind, which utilizes AI and mobile tools to accelerate the process of ‘disease detection followed by treatment.”

Fitbit and other similar devices are good examples of health monitoring wearables.

Health monitoring and caring is currently the most significant use case of IoT in healthcare.

Smart Pills is a good example of how IoT can help in remote monitoring and caring of patients through an app by regularizing their medicine intake.

One significant mention here can be made of the use of RTLS to track location of patients or even critical medical equipment. Such a technology provides a wide range of applications like triggering alerts on entry and exit of specific equipment/patient, restrict monitoring access based on user and location, provide augmented reality experience. This can also be used to help ambulances reach their destination faster by providing optimised routes.

The traditional diagnostic techniques sometimes prevent people to opt out for a checkup. Whether it be due to the prick of a needle, closed spaces, or allowing x rays to pass through their body. Even today, a number of diseases remain undetected due to patients not willing to take the tests. Lot of progress has already been made in this regards and IoT shall do the rest. RTLS would play a significant role in this too.

IoT would also come up with some more self-diagnostic devices, thus, creating more convenience for the patients to get treatment on time.

After a number of major surgeries, patient’s recovery is solely dependent on the ambience he or she is kept in. Post surgery infections are real threats and its outcome can be anything from a prolonged hospital stay or even death. Air purification forms an important part of a healthy recovery. And remote controlling of air purifier just eases the process.

WCE (Wireless Capsule Endoscopy) deserves a special mention, when it comes to diagnostic accuracy. WCE is done by making the patient swallow a small capsule camera which would record the patient’s internal organs and has the potential of capturing certain parts of the gastrointestinal tract which are not visible in other diagnostic procedures. Moreover, even in terms of comfort factor, WCE is a high scale improvement over traditional endoscopy procedures. WCE has the potential to detect bleeding in the GI tract, which would otherwise remain undetected through traditional methods.

Measurement forms an important aspect when it comes to replacement surgeries or implantations. In this regards Laser sensor based applications with the help of a connectivity module can give an accurate distance measurement.

Conclusion

IoT would indeed be a boon in Healthcare industry once thoroughly tested. IoT do have certain challenges to overcome. We are still in the very onset of Industry 4.0 and IoT security is still a debated topic. But, with the current pace of growth in the domain, we can only hope for the bes for the healthcare industry.

Further Reading

References

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